a surprise proposal in a beautiful garden thaws a crotchety retiree and draws a village together.
IFOUND the wedding announcement of my parents, published after they tied the knot in May 1955. The news was contained in a yellowed but well-preserved cutting of the (now defunct) Malaya Times.times This and a few other washed-out photographs were among the keepsakes mum managed to salvage from the 2010 flash flood that destroyed their home in Kampung Ulu Temiang, Seremban.
Dad looked dashing in a suit and mum, who wore a gorgeous veil and an elaborate satin saree, carried a bouquet of lilies. Anyone who had read the announcement would have deemed it a romantic union.
However, dad, a police inspector, was a workaholic who had eyes only for his career. And he convinced mum that marriage should have no surprises. In the early years of their marriage, he chose to ignore anniversaries and birthdays, never held her hands, underestimated her brain power, and was posses-possessive and critical and “house-policed” her.
Through it all, my mother kept the peace and remained patient while trying earnestly to understand the hard side of her taskmaster husband. If at all she felt unmotivated and ready to leap out of the marriage, she would think of various events or moments that changed her perspective of him.
Among the many which she chose to speak candidly about was the time a young Chinese gentleman came a-calling unexpectedly one hot afternoon.
By then, dad had considered himself a retired soul, and would spend many hours in his huge “Garden of Eden”. He took pride in livening up the place by using recycled items like empty tins and pieces of salvaged scrap metal.
The neighbours thought him nutty and kept their distance because he seemed unapproachable. But the garden also drew curious onlookers who were mesmerised by his gardening and landscaping skills. Mum often found them talking excitedly under the mangosteen tree, amongst the different shades of green.
As the story goes, the young fellow had fallen in love with a kampung lass and wanted to propose to her on Valentine’s Day. He explained to my father the symbolic meaning of his proposal, and asked for permission to decorate our garden with lanterns, balloons and a huge banner declaring his love, in Chinese characters.
The path leading to our home in the kampung wound over a bridge. Beneath it was the river which flowed between the main road and where the lass’ home was located.
My mum had seen the girl many times, and on more than one occasion, had asked her when she was getting married. However, she would only shrug her shoulders and say her boyfriend was not romantic and that they were both busy earning a living in the city.
That evening, my dad was very excited about the plans laid out by the love-stuck youth. Both my parents enthusistically began cleaning up their yard and rearranging pots of fragrant flowers. Old, decorative coloured lights were brought out to add sparkle to the rusted iron gate.
Mum, who is 82 now, remembers feeling how similar the preparations were to when they were getting ready for their own wedding in the same house.
The hustle and bustle the following day was tinged with anticipation; it did not just affect my parents. Apparently, the youth had informed the girl’s parents and they were now excitedly discussing the clever “plot”, with the support of dad and mum.
Many of the couple’s friends poured into our compound carrying boxes filled with ornaments, lanterns and a huge, heart-shaped bouquet of red roses. They arranged the banner along the bridge and then set up a single table with candles, a bottle of wine and a heart-shaped cake in our garden.
The entire day was filled with laughter, songs and jokes amongst the younger generation, who were trying to make the event as memorable as possible.
At the last minute, my father suggested having a barbeque and even brought out two huge, old oil drums and filled them with charcoal and netting.
Many of our immediate neighbours, who had hardly said a word to him for years, sud- LOVE is a robust action word, but my perception of it in a husbandwife relationship has evolved from romantic ideals to a secure and inseparable comradeship.
Before marriage, my idea of my dream man was the stereotypical thoroughbred gentleman who represented the age of chivalry – suave and articulate, with fine social etiquette and polished manners.
Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), my real man turned out to be quite the opposite – a man of few words, far too practical and a matter-of-fact Chinaman. Impressionable and impetuous as I was, I believe it was God’s way of denly appeared with fresh chicken meat, nasi rebung (rice cooked in bamboo stems), sacks of newly plucked baby corn, and fruits. They wanted to be part of the merry event.
Faced with such an open display of comradeship, my father welcomed one and all. According to mum, he certainly “mended” his reputation as a big-headed, deaf and eccentric old man in the eyes of his neighbours. So very often, she added, she had hidden her hurt when someone ridiculed and attacked the man she loved behind his back.
The evening brought joy and a different feeling that made my mother beam with giddy love. She caressed my father’s shoulders as they waited for the surprise proposal to take place. The atmosphere made everything seem so romantic, so much so that the youth and his friends were soon teasing my parents in return.
My father had always believed that his garden would be the ideal place to sit in during all the happy times, amidst all the different plants.
True enough, the tall bamboo stems swayed in the breeze as streamers of red ribbon fluttered against the lighted lanterns. Nature herself was not left out, as butterflies and bees flew around, and even squirrels were seen peeping curiously at the colourful display in our garden.
As far as my father was concerned, all he wanted was for my mother to sit in the garden and enjoy the little things around her, to help her while away the hours.
The special Valentine’s proposal was the talk of the kampung for many months; it was even reported in a local Chinese daily. For weeks thereafter, my parents received many requests from bridal couples who wanted to have photographs of their special day taken in n Old is gold, and bold. So, let us hear what you have to say, about what excites you, makes you happy, sad or concerned. E-mail your views to email@example.com. Published contributions will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and telephone number. the scenic garden.
The youth confided in mum that dad had advised him to make his union a shared journey of love, challenge, romance, fun, tears and a desire to grow old together.
My father also said that he was too old to mend his ways, but had realised, from the event, that he had deprived mum of many happy moments in their years together.
My parents sustained their partnership of five decades until dad’s demise in August 2006, one month short of his 77th birthday. matter is ultimately the matter of the heart.
The beauty of love is seen in simple acts of sacrifice, such as when the needs of one’s partner are placed above his or her own.
Overtures of love are demonstrated in the gentle holding of each other’s hand while walking or crossing the road, and in foregoing a pleasurable favourite pastime by the husband, for example, just to indulge his wife with something she enjoys, such as shopping or dining together.
Mature love is also more patient and tolerant. Perhaps age itself mellows us. We are less given to fiery outbursts and will adopt a gentler and less confrontational approach